I have stayed in Delhi for over an year now and I have taken a sip from the city’s unflinching beauty every now and then, enough to write an ode to the city. It is a metropolitan but within it, there are small towns with the quirkiest of creatures walking its streets. It is a delight at times and at times it becomes the irritating impersonator who wants to be a big city but you want to slap its skull and tell it that it is trying too hard. It has gathered the metropolitan inconveniences like traffic, shops that are far apart and amenities that cost higher but it uses them with the same small town fingers that it has always had.
The shopkeepers wake up late and there are very few breakfast outlets open before 8 in the morning keeping in mind maintenance of the big city inconvenience but, the laziness in opening the shops is essentially small town-like. If one happens to roam on the streets, he is sure to catch discussions on politics and issues of national importance keeping with the image of the nation’s de facto political capital but on the same streets, there is littering, spitting and all things uncivil. There are humourous strangers, friendly senior citizens that paint a delightful, humble picture of a friendly small town and then there are angry mongrels gnarling, ready to begin street fights and tempers boiling at the drop of a hat in the traffic keeping with image of big city frustrations.
I have been to the Nizamuddin dargah and the qawwals there enchanted me with their singing and for some unknown reason, their lame, weak cat which roamed the corridors of the shrine took a liking to me and sat in my lap the whole time I sat to listen to the Sufi music and I petted her with a strange sense of deja vu rising up my toes; as if I had known this place in an earlier life. That’s what Delhi is supposed to do to you. I have gone to the Siri fort and have danced to the guitar beats of perfect strangers as my feet started tapping to them unknowingly. Delhi is poetry for those who can read it. It is both a winter poem with soft, tender snowflakes in it and it is also a song of the Indian summer that can burn your skin.
Delhi is where Punjab meets Bengal meets UP meets Bihar meets Tamil Nadu meets Haryana and you push your fingers in your ears anticipating an explosion while to one’s delight, they all get along pretty well and how! We flaunt Mumbai for its tolerance but look at Delhi- it takes everyone and turns them into Delhites.
I often perch myself on my rooftop and indulge in a bit of bird-watching myself, pretending to have Ruskin Bond-like affinity to all creatures of nature. No, I do not keep water for the birds like good ol’ Mr Bond, nor do I know the names of all the thrushes and parakeets that pass by my tiny space above my head on my terrace. Yet, I do marvel at these avian friends of ours who diligently follow the routine of their simple lives, with their innocent simplicity. I am sure they know not any other way being birds of the sky, else they’d have corrupted themselves too and sat chatting with their friends on the tree after a late night sleepover instead of following diligently their daily commute. No sir, they don’t. I don’t understand their routine though. It is the uncertainty of the day that is enough to bog any human soul down; I rarely see these birds feeding themselves- most of the time they are perched atop a cable, an antenna or a water tank- in the process of their struggle. How do they drag themselves out of the coziness of their nests to face the brutal days?
The most glorious of them all is the hawk. It flies high above all other birds, establishing its dominance. Kites and hawks are aplenty here; and can be seen gliding high above in the skies with their flawless long-spanning wings which turn not so flawless in the seasons of kite-flying. Children fly kites in Delhi on the days around Makar sankranti (January) and Independence Day (15th Aug). These are scary times for the birds I believe as many get trapped in the sharp thread ie manjha and get injured. I’ve seen a kite struggle to fly with only one good wing. It was not a pretty sight to see the ruler in shambles.
The crow is another curious creature here. It can be seen in tussle with most other birds or among its own folk cawing loudly. It is considered to be the rat of the skies which is unfair because I think pigeons must get to share that rare honour. Pigeons have been known to perch themselves at strategically located venues where their excrement has the highest possibility of soiling the hair, clothes or shoes of a human. It is considered to be a lucky charm but I think it is just something we made up to feel better about being shit on by another being.
I see no sparrows here and that is sad because sparrows, growing in a small town, have been my childhood companions. The way the mommy sparrow and the daddy sparrow search for a real estate to start their family is absolutely adorable. Yes, they do cause nuisance but you bear them like you bear the nuisance of children. Crows and pigeons are the grown up teens which you want to send away from and never see again except when they do well in life and are looking dapper sitting on someone else’s porch, shitting on someone else’s lap.